The Bible’s Marriage Metaphor Doesn’t Belong In the Bedroom

The Bible’s Marriage Metaphor Doesn’t Belong In the Bedroom

Last week, my learners and I ended up seeking at ways to interpret hard texts in Paul in course when a storm broke out online about the theology of the relationship metaphor.

In Twitter threads and Substack posts, Christian voices provided their discerning sights all over pastor Joshua Ryan Butler’s metaphorical reading of Ephesians 5 printed on The Gospel Coalition internet site. Butler’s piece, an excerpt from an upcoming e-book on intercourse, produced sufficient significant feed-back that the short article was taken out.

The latest discussion, even though, underscores a perpetual dilemma for us as Christians: How can we discern the Bible and Christian tradition faithfully? What need to be our important?

As Christians, we position to the triune God as the fount of all adore, and one particular way that Scripture invitations us to think about God and adore is through the metaphorical language of marriage. In Ephesians 5, Paul describes relationship, a union the two social and physical, as a fantastic mystery (v. 32), and he draws out realistic classes of self-sacrifice for wives (vv. 21–24, 33) and husbands (vv. 21, 25, 28–29, 33). Woven all over these teachings on marriage are beautiful statements about Christ and the church.

Our interpretation of these statements need to be anchored in the biblical textual content itself. Just before describing him as a spouse, Paul uses imagery in Ephesians 5 to reveal the Lord’s sovereignty. Even though he has just provided his incarnate title, Jesus, Paul refers to the Son of God as Christ and Lord. Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the one who reigns around God’s kingdom, and the Lord, the sovereign over the universe. He is also the Savior of the human body (v. 23).

Christ exercises his sovereign lordship through acts of self-providing company and appreciate, as in John 13 and Philippians 2. Christ the Sovereign loved the church and gave himself for her, in buy that he may well sanctify the church. Christ dealt with the trouble of sin by washing, which was the task of a servant (Eph. 5:26–27). All the customers of the overall body, individually and collectively as the church (v. 30), necessary the salvation only Christ the Lord could carry.

Paul compares husbands to Christ in this passage, but this does not imply that husbands are like Christ in each individual respect. It is liberating for adult males to know the methods they should not (because they can not) “be Lord” to their wives. They can neither help save nor sanctify their wives, for they also are in want of a Savior and contaminated by sin.

Not like other males

Paul does present the romance of wives to their husbands as an instance of all Christians distributing to a single a different and all the members of the church distributing to Christ, but he never ever tells husbands to lead their wives, only to appreciate—a directive he repeats in Ephesians 5:25, twice in verse 28, and yet again in verse 33.

We see husbands are not Jesus, and Jesus is not in all means like a husband. Even though Paul teaches husbands to adore self-sacrificially by subsequent the instance of Jesus’ self-sacrificial demise for the church, he goes beyond the bounds of the relationship metaphor when he speaks of Christ’s really like for the church. Paul will make it obvious that Christ’s self-sacrificial like is not only a one particular-time atoning celebration. Christ engages in very long-phrase, ongoing care for the church.

In Ephesians 5:29, he nourishes the church, a expression applied for father’s treatment of young children (Eph. 6:4) and connected to the time period for mother’s nursing (Luke 23:29). Christ also cares for the church, a expression employed for holding warm (Deut. 22:6) or nursing (1 Thess. 2:7). Paul is not limiting the metaphor to husband and spouse but is introducing into the marriage metaphor parental imagery for Christ—even parental imagery connected with woman bodies.

The church is feminized in Paul’s metaphor, but the church is built up of male and female users who are all called to enjoy Christ as a bride. Christ is largely cast as the spouse in this metaphor—and he is definitely embodied as male—but Christ is not like other males, not only mainly because he is God, but also since his male human body arrived from the flesh of a female entire body (Mary) and not also a male physique (Joseph).

This fact is just the assertion of the doctrine of the virginal conception of Jesus. In shorter, Paul’s depiction of Christ’s singular sovereignty and saving perform, in addition to the combined parental and relationship metaphors, preserves the boundary upheld by all Christian instructing: the boundary in between Creator and development.

And this suggests that this text also preserves the boundary among Christ and males, releasing husbands from a regular they could never ever achieve. They only way they are called to be like Jesus is to like their wives self-sacrificially, the precise get in touch with Paul problems to all believers (Eph. 5:1–2). It is the biblical textual content itself that closes the doorway to privilege of proximity between adult men and Jesus/God, a thought that has been utilized to justify abuse of gals by adult males, dressed up in religious garb.

A deeply inclusive mystery

As is clear from Ephesians 5, relationship is not the only metaphor for God’s relation to the church in Scripture. An additional prominent arena of biblical language is that of the household. God is occasionally the spouse, but far more usually, God is named as the Father. Even Ephesians 5, known for the relationship metaphor, begins this way: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved small children” (ESV, emphasis added).

A single of the dangers of overemphasizing the relationship metaphor is that it can add to an idolization of relationship and privilege the working experience of all those who can righteously have interaction in sexual intercourse. On the other hand, the household metaphor is additional universal. No matter if or not the knowledge is a very good just one, absolutely everyone is aware of what it is to be a son or daughter, but not absolutely everyone is aware of what it is to be married. The pervasiveness of familial language for God will take the marriage metaphor off any inappropriate pedestal.

Additionally, familial terminology does not lend by itself to unsuitable comparisons amongst sexual intercourse and marriage with God as the marriage metaphor has. Granted, a male does not come to be a organic father help you save as a result of sexual intercourse, but the same does not apply to God the Father. God is Creator. God is Spirit. God is eternally three people in dynamic loving marriage as unbegotten, begotten, and proceeding.

When the triune God was unveiled preeminently in the incarnation of the divine Son, that revelation took spot as a result of a nonsexual act. God’s Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary but did not have intercourse with her (Luke 1:35).

When rightly understood, both equally metaphors in Scripture—God as our husband and God as our Father—work from a basic difficulty that must be prevented: a crude male sexualization of God and its corollary, a divinization of male sexuality. This is the blunder that Butler designed in his interpretation, which parallels how “Christ penetrates his church with the generative seed of his Word” with the sexual intimacy of a bride waiting in the honeymoon suite.

In the Incarnation, the eternal God selected to reveal God’s own self as the Father who is not an embodied male and an everlasting Son who became 1. And in God’s everlasting wisdom, this revelation took position by and with the lively agency and system of a lady. There is a profound and deeply inclusive thriller in the human body of our Lord, a male virginally conceived by the power of the Holy Spirt when Mary said indeed. His physique evokes the picture of God (Col. 1:15 2 Cor. 4:4) as proclaimed in Genesis 1:26–27, the impression of God in male and female.

It is this revelation of God in Jesus Christ that must management our interpretation of the marriage metaphor in Ephesians 5. Jesus is the crucial to our discernment. If the Father of Jesus Christ is exposed preeminently in the Incarnation, which does not materialize by sexual intercourse and the Son who is male from the overall body of a woman also under no circumstances engaged in sex and if that God is metaphorically the spouse of the church, then the creaturely category of male sexual exercise cannot be projected on to our God.

When recognized by way of the Incarnation, our metaphorical partnership with the triune God as partner provides anything stunning and fantastic for all folks, married and solitary, adult males and females, devoid of privilege for some but lack for other folks.

If something, this controversy demonstrates that distinctive educational institutions of interpretation require to be in conversation with just one a different and not ensconced in self-contained silos. It is unity, even and specially, unity throughout distinction, that Jesus reported would talk God’s appreciate to a planet so desperately in need to have of it (John 13:35).

We are not all married to one a different, but we are all a element of the exact same family members.

Amy Peeler is affiliate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and associate rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Geneva, Illinois. She is the author of a reserve on Mary titled Girls and the Gender of God.